The last bastion

The last bastion

The IT industry is clamouring to take advantage of the huge opportunities offered by digitising Australia’s ailing healthcare industry. But will the strategy work?

There is also demand for identity solutions - such as single sign-on authentication systems to enable doctors to sign in once for access to multiple systems.

Security and privacy are also key considerations. People are rightly sensitive about their health records - Gardiner suggested many Australians would rather have their financial information exposed to the public than their health records. Business continuity is equally as crucial.

"Lose a radiology system for two hours and the facility may be able to cope," he said. "Lose it for two days and the manual workarounds aren't sustainable. The crucial thing about health IT systems is this simple: Life and death decisions are made on the quality and availability of data."

The Holy Grail

While these 'plumbing' technologies are essential to get right, there is one IT project widely considered to be the 'Holy Grail' of healthcare IT.

"The electronic health record is the buzz," Gardiner said. "It's all anybody is talking about." Healthcare providers are looking to deploy an IT system that can reduce administrative burdens, facilitate collaboration between stakeholders in the health industry and move clinical-relevant data to the point of care.

Such a system is required to address one fundamental shift that has taken place in the last few decades of healthcare provision. Whereas once healthcare was delivered within the four walls of a hospital, today it is delivered via a range of providers that are loosely connected. It is equally managed at the office of the local GP, within the practices of other allied health practitioners (such as physiotherapists, for example) and increasingly in aged care and community care facilities.

"Healthcare [for Eastern Health] now goes beyond the boundaries of Box Hill Hospital or the Maroondah Hospital and into the wider community," Gardiner said. "It's about collaborating beyond the walls with community services, allied health and mental health."

A system that allows for collaboration between these stakeholders, in which patient data is seamlessly transferred to the point of care at any given time, can cut down on misdiagnosis and enable a more proactive and continuous healthcare system. Better management of illness leads to less re-admissions and less cost burden on the hospital system.

"The philosophy is about keeping people fit and well - keeping them out of hospital in the first place," Gardiner said.

Healthcare has lagged behind other industries when it comes to industry-wide systems, Gardiner continued. "Think about banking - you can stick your debit card into just about any ATM anywhere in the world and access your financial records," he said. "Nothing like that exists for your medical records."

At present, health-related data is stored in silos across multiple organisations.

"To date, systems have been focused on what happens in the hospital, rather than the transfer of information between health providers," CHIK managing director, Sally Glass, said. CHIK is a not-for-profit organisation that facilitates discussion between the health and ICT industries.

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